Publication / DecodeDC
January 25, 2017
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How to pay for it remains an issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump took a step Wednesday toward fulfilling one of his highest-profile and most popular campaign promises as he signed an executive order committing federal funding to complete a border wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Trump made the announcement during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security. It’s part of a big push this week by his administration to roll out multiple immigration and refugee actions.

He signed two executive orders Wednesday — one dealing with construction and funding of the wall and the other with management of illegal immigrants already in the United States. While the executive actions shed some light on how Trump will approach these promises, there are still many unknowns.

Here’s what we do know about the wall.

How will the wall be funded?

Trump repeatedly pledged during the campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and get Mexico to pay for it. The pledge often led to rally chants of “build that wall, build that wall.” Since his election however, Trump has rolled back on the tone and scope of his rhetoric and suggested that the U.S. government would pay for the wall and Mexico would cover the cost at a later date.

It appears that the administration is sticking to that approach. Trump’s executive order directs DHS to begin building the remaining portions of the border wall. According to CNN, the order also would require DHS to release details on the current aid it provides to Mexico — a hint that the administration might redirect that spending toward building the wall. This would be a way for Trump to get Mexico to “pay” for the wall.

Mexico’s past and present leaders have continued to assert that they will not be paying, nor reimbursing, a border wall.

Trump has floated another way to pay for the construction by taxing remittances. According to the Bank of Mexico, in 2015 Mexico was sent nearly $25 billion from citizens who were living and working outside of the country, including in the U.S. Trump has asserted that he believes the majority of that funding comes from the states.

It’s possible that the U.S. could tax Mexican remittances coming from the U.S., but an executive action would not be enough — it would take an act of Congress. If 10 percent of those remittances were taxed, it could generate $10 billion for the federal government over the next four years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at Wednesday’s daily briefing that “one way or another,” Mexico ultimately will pay for the wall.

What state is the current wall in?

Currently 652 miles of the 1,954-mile U.S. Mexico border has some amalgamation of walls, fences and other barriers, according to the Government Accountability Office. In areas closest to cities the wall has multiple layers. The wall is the weakest in more desolate areas and in some areas there is no wall at all. This is frequently because the terrain already provides a natural barrier, such as the widest parts of the Rio Grande River or steep mountain ranges.

What will it cost to finish the remainder of the wall?

Former President George W. Bush led the push to build much of the current wall through a bill passed in Congress in 2000 called the Secure Fence Act. The act approved building 700 miles of fencing, but the construction stopped short by about 50 miles.  In 2015, Border Patrol officials said that the current 652 miles of wall had cost $2.3 billion to build.

Trump estimated last February that he could finish the remainder of the wall — all 1,302 miles of it — for $8 billion.

But most other estimates are much higher. A study by the Bernstein Research group last year estimated that total costs for completing the wall, which would largely be done through treacherous terrain, could cost between $15 billion and $25 billion.

How will Trump enforce immigration policies in the U.S.?

The second executive order Trump signed Wednesday touches on the issue of “sanctuary cities”— or cities whose law enforcement agencies refuse to hold or turn over presumed illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Currently there are about 300 jurisdictions that fit that description. Many of the agencies in those cities argue that holding people for no other reason than their presumed legal status would be a strain on local budgets.

Trump’s order will triple resources to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement and direct the federal government to identify criminal aliens in the U.S.